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The practice and study of giving gifts


The month of December can often be a prolonged struggle as we search for the ideal presents for our loved ones. Despite our familiarity with them, it can be challenging to uncover their true desires. Each choice can seem like a reflection of our relationship. This is a common outcome due to how our brains function. While humans have a superior capacity for empathy, it can be mentally draining for our brains.

According to Professor Julian Givi from West Virginia University, selecting gifts requires a significant amount of mental effort. This makes us more susceptible to making mistakes. Givi and other researchers have discovered numerous cognitive biases that cause us to make incorrect judgments, resulting in wasted money and missed chances for stronger social bonds.

Thankfully, the skill of giving gifts can be acquired through education. By understanding the most frequent mistakes, we can quickly enhance our selections to guarantee that we bring the utmost joy to our loved ones.

Consider looking ahead instead of just focusing on the present.

A lot of our errors stem from a form of shortsightedness. The individual presenting the gift is focused on the moment of giving – they desire a gift that will evoke the most immediate response, even if it only brings temporary happiness. On the other hand, recipients tend to feel more appreciative of presents that provide long-lasting enjoyment.

Prof Adelle Yang from the National University of Singapore explains the existence of a natural difference in perspective. She refers to this as the “smile-seeking hypothesis” and has conducted several surveys that strongly support this concept. As an example, when it comes to purchasing gifts for Valentine’s Day, she has discovered that givers tend to choose a bouquet of fresh flowers that may be visually appealing at the time of gifting, but will eventually wilt, while receivers prefer a house plant that they can nurture for weeks to come.

If you are concerned about succumbing to this bias, consider if you would still choose the same option if you were sending the gift through mail. Research has shown that individuals are more likely to make a rational decision when they are not physically present to see the recipient’s immediate reaction upon opening the gift.

Our emphasis on the moment of giving can lead to various mistakes. Instead of purchasing a gift that is already on someone’s wishlist, people tend to choose something different. While givers enjoy the element of surprise when the gift is opened, receivers typically prefer receiving something they specifically asked for.

According to Professor Jeffrey Galak from Carnegie Mellon University, receiving unexpected gifts can cause twice the amount of trouble. Not only is the gift not what you wanted, but if you have a close relationship with the giver, it can be difficult to address the issue. Asking for a refund may seem unappreciative. As evidenced by our cluttered homes, unwanted gifts from past Christmases can continue to bother us for months or even years.

A person's hands passing a present to another

Prioritize experiences over material possessions.

The theory of seeking happiness through smiles can also account for our preference for purchasing material possessions, such as a luxurious watch or necklace, instead of experiential gifts like concert tickets or a cooking class. While the giver may be thrilled to present something visually appealing, research suggests that experiences bring greater overall satisfaction and lasting memories compared to material items that lose their appeal over time. According to Galak, “If you are trying to make the best decision for the exchange, you would want to give the most dazzling item possible. But that does a disservice to the recipient.”

Disregard the cost

Gift-giving is often associated with the amount of money spent. We tend to believe that the higher the cost, the more we value the person. However, psychological studies have shown that we place too much importance on monetary value. According to Galak, the evidence suggests that the price of a gift does not determine how well it is received. Moreover, we tend to spend more money on people who are already wealthy, rather than those who may benefit more from a small luxury.

Our concern for social comparison amplifies our fixation on price. We fear that others’ extravagant gifts will overshadow our own efforts. According to Galak and Givi, some individuals may even choose to abstain from gift-giving altogether if they feel they cannot match the “competition”. In truth, the perceived value of gifts has minimal impact on how they are perceived; each gift is evaluated based on its own merits. Galak states, “Our fears do not manifest on the recipient’s end. They are simply delighted to receive a gift.”

Override your egotism

There are times when we may feel envious of the people receiving gifts. For example, if your sister wants new sunglasses for Christmas and you find a stylish pair that you know she will love, but it will make your own sunglasses look less fashionable by comparison. In these situations, people often opt for a lower-quality gift to avoid triggering their own feelings of jealousy. They would rather risk disappointing the recipient than feel envious themselves.

Our desire to stand out as individuals can also hinder our actions. For example, if you come across the exact piece of Beatles memorabilia that your friend has been longing for on an online marketplace, you may hesitate to purchase it. While it would be the perfect gift, you may want to maintain the uniqueness of being the only one who owns this coveted item. Therefore, you opt for a different gift that may not elicit as much gratitude.

According to Givi, the act of giving gifts is often seen as a selfless gesture, but our selfish motivations may also influence our actions. However, if we can overcome our egotistical tendencies, we may be able to make better decisions.

Conquer your aversion to being sentimental.

When you have a strong connection with someone, you might choose to give them a sentimental gift, like a photo or scrapbook commemorating your relationship. This can make you feel vulnerable. When deciding on a sentimental present, people often worry that their friend or significant other would prefer something more expensive and practical. However, Givi and Galak’s studies prove that these concerns are unfounded; people actually prefer gifts with more emotional meaning.

If you’re hesitant to make this decision on your own, rest assured that Givi practices what he preaches. According to him, sentimental gifts are almost always a success and bring great joy to the recipient.

Source: theguardian.com